I See You [The Invented Part]
On this week’s Two Month Review podcast, we’ll be discussing the sixth part of The Invented Part (“Meanwhile, Once Again, Beside the Museum Stairway, Under a Big Day,” pages 405-440). As a bit of preparation, below you’ll find some initial thoughts, observations, and quotes.
You can also download this post as a PDF document.
As always, you can get The Invented Part
for 20% off from our website by using the code 2MONTH. It’s also available at better bookstores everywhere.
Last week I referenced my theory about how the whole of The Invented Part is structured, with the fourth section serving as a fulcrum, and the parts on either side reflecting each other. So, the first section is mirrored in the seventh, the second in the sixth, third in the fifth.
Granted, I read the book last year when we were preparing it for publication, so yes, I was cheating a bit, but I was still glad to see my theory play itself out in this section (the sixth), which features The Young Man and Young Woman and mirrors the second section, “The Place Where the Sea Ends So the Forest Can Begin.” Without giving away too many details, I’ll just say that this part wraps up a ton of plot points from the earlier section: Why did The Writer name The Young Man as one of his favorite living authors? What’s the deal with Ishmael Tantor? What happened to The Writer after breaking into CERN and merging with the so-called god particle? What would The Writer do with this power? Why so many pages about airplanes? (Actually, we’ll come back to that last one next week.)
On the podcast we’ve mentioned the fact that Fresán wrote the seven sections of this book simultaneously at least a dozen times. As a gratuitous reminder, here’s the section from his interview with translator Will Vanderhyden in which he mentions it:
I wasn’t saying that I write with the same degree of genius and talent that The Beatles had, not at all. I was saying, and I explained this in the interview, that after reading a memoir by Geoff Emerick, The Beatles’ sound engineer, the thing about equalizing and utilizing different channels on the sound mixer ended up having a great deal to do with the way I wrote The Invented Part, whose seven parts I wrote simultaneously. I had seven files open, and I worked on a different one each day. And, at the same time, I didn’t really know where that novel was going, until my son provided me with the key, the little toy figure that appears on the cover of the original edition, which has now become a kind of little literary icon . . . I was bogged down. I had spent years writing a novel, I knew what I wanted to say, I even had a plan, but it wasn’t coming together.
If you’re reading this book for the first time, it’s easy to see it as a sort of wild, Beat-poet inspired ramble through the mind of an aging author. (I’m reminded of a drunken conversation I once had with Wells Tower in which he complained of Roberto Bolaño, “Is there anything this guy doesn’t include in his novels?”)
But, as you reread, or think about, or revisit the book, it becomes more and more clear just how intricately the novel has been constructed. There are little clues and hints and references littered throughout, such as this bit from the second section, in which The Young Man is recounting all the writing workshops he’s attended:
The one with the guy who insisted “that everything begins and ends with Chekov.” Which caused The Young Man a lot of anxiety: because The Young Man read Chekov, enjoyed Chekov, but never understood what his genius was. And he understood even less all the people who wanted to write like that. Those endings that were so open, where nothing was resolved and where all you seem to hear was the voice of the wind slipping in and running around. Endings where, for example, a man and a woman meet beside a museum stairway, with the whole sky above their heads, just to say goodbye to each other. And that’s about it.
(An Anton Chekhov finger puppet seems appropriate.)
On first read you might think that’s pretty funny, or it reminds you of a professor you once had. But then, a mere 322 pages later, you get this bit about The Young Man and Young Woman:
Meanwhile, once again, beside the Museum stairway, under a big sky, he and she wonder how and why they’ve ended up there, after so long without seeing each other (though really it was only a few minutes ago that they said goodbye, again), and only so they can say goodbye.
Or, to really drive this home, twenty-nine pages later, this section ends with:
Meanwhile, once again, beside the Museum stairway, under a big sky, he says to himself that this is, in a way, the closest thing to an Anton Chekov story he’ll ever write. He wonders, also, if all the preceding might not be clearer if it were rearranged in strict chronological order, from back to front, with the most nocturnal of tenderness, until it arrived to this eternal present, meanwhile, once again, beside the Museum stairway, under a big sky.
Books that reward you for paying attention are the best.
So, in relation to this section we have, on the one hand, Chekov, and on the other, Rick and Morty. There’re elegant phrasings (e.g., “meanwhile, once again, beside the Museum stairway, under a big sky”), emotional partings, and a tragic death alongside a giant museum of The Writer, which is The Writer, who has been transformed into the Big Sky, an almighty figure who can control everything, including The Young Man and Young Woman, whom he keeps bringing together, beside the Museum stairway, under a big sky, to have the depart, say “goodbye” until he’s ready to intervene and replay this same moment, with slight variation, yet again.
I couldn’t help but think of this “museum” as a giant Rick-shaped head, tweaking reality over and over again, while Morty flips out on the side, “oh, oh geez Rick, you can’t just be toying with people’s existential realities that way. That’s, that’s just not good Rick. You built a museum of yourself to be worshipped and now you’re making everyone read your books over and over, with like, no regard for their free will? Y-you’ve gone too far.” (My Morty impersonation is only good in person, when inebriated.)
One way to read this section is to treat it at face value, as the culmination of the novel’s “plot.” The Writer has accomplished his goal of merging with the god particle and transcending space-time in order to rewrite reality whenever he wants. Which is crazy. Which would be glorious!
Or, you can see this as a new spin (a quantum spin? sorry) on metafiction, in which the pretense that a book is reflecting reality is shoved aside in favor of acknowledging that characters are just that—characters.
The Invented Part has always been a book about “the invented parts” of fiction and art, and part of that inventing is rewriting, redrafting, tweaking, and rejiggering scenes and sentences. Here, in this section, we’re witness to a new version of that, in which we get to the see the Writer doing this right on the page, with comments on his own writing, or bits like this, which almost look like MS Word with track changes turned on:
Insert: “Big Sky” was one of X’s favorite songs before becoming X and ascending into the big sky, and that’s that. There was a time when X, before becoming X, could compose lyrical tirades about songs. Now, since becoming X, X prefers to let the song itself sing and he just steps aside to listen to the song being sung.
That song is like the equivalent and replacement of all the sacramental hymns floating in the naves of all the churches and cathedrals. Glory to the Creator, Blessed be, Hallowed be thy name, Forever and ever, etcetera.
And right from the beginning, The Young Man and Young Woman realize that they are characters under the Writer’s control:
There was a time when, yes, they were the ones who decided and improvised how they said goodbye and how they got back together, amid tears and laughter, masters of a story that might have been poorly written but, at least, they were the ones writing it.
Now, not so much, not anymore.
Now, the goodbye is final and refined and elegant.
A carefully considered and calculated and far better written goodbye; but a goodbye written by someone else.
Written by someone who is never entirely pleased with the result and, so, starting over, saying “hello” again to say “goodbye” again. Though now the one who writes and edits them seems to be concentrating not on the twist of the reunion, but, solely, on the pogo-stick of the goodbye.
There’s even a moment in which The Young Man breaks free for a minute before The Writer (referred to here as X) takes back over with a vengeance.
Like, he suddenly remembers, those plantation owners who ceaselessly read The Count of Monte Cristo to their slaves, forced to roll Montecristo-brand cigars: as if giving the prisoners the gift of a great fictitious revenge whose smoke and fragrance they’ll never get to breathe in. And, suddenly, intoxicated by that not new but, yes, sudden memory (and frightened by the carelessness of X, who, distracted maybe, allowed him to remember it), he starts to tremble. And he feels him come back. X. Firing off shrieks like flares. And entering his head and scrambling it until, there inside, on a tropical island, plantation owners don’t read The Count of Monte Cristo to those working the land anymore; they read them Dracula—the story of a hunter who suddenly finds himself hunted. [. . .]
And X’s message is clear: “Don’t get clever, there’s no way out, I’m the only one who thinks around here, and you, now, are nothing but the writing of my writing, the ink of my ink, the blood of my blood, circulating through the tangled mess of wiring that grows inside my centrifuge brain.”
And, yes, there it is, there it remains.
The edifice of the Museum has the shape of a head.
Metafiction has been around for a very long time—long before John Barth’s Lost in the Funhouse directly addressed its own structure, and before Gilbert Sorrentino borrowed, and then trapped, two characters from other books in Mulligan Stew, Laurence Sterne was pulling back the curtain in Tristam Shandy—and there’s no real reason to go over all of that right here, but I do want to mention that this particular flavor of metafiction reminds me a lot of Macedonio Fernandez’s The Museum of Eterna’s Novel (The First Good Novel). A fellow Argentinian writer, Macedonio’s book was a huge inspiration to Borges, and is made up of two parts: 122 pages of prologues (“The Model Prologue,” “Prologue of Indecision,” “Another Prologue”) followed by 126 pages of the “novel,” in which an author forces his characters to practice their lines and movements in preparation for his novel. Actually, there is a third section as well. This page, which comes between the two aforementioned parts:
Were those prologues? And is this the novel?
This page is for the reader to linger, in his well-deserved and serious indecision, before reading on.
So much fun. Both of these books are just a joy to read. Especially if you’re at all into the idea that fiction is a fiction, and there’s no good reason to strictly adhere to the illusion that words on a page correspond—via images and ideas—to the so-called “real” world. In these books you get to see creators at play; in more realistic books, you get Jonathan Franzen.